Genetic testing is a relatively new tool available to patients and their providers to help them assess the risks and interventions warranted for many kinds of cancers. RGU now offers this testing through the RGU Cancer Center to patients and family members affected by cancer or those who have high risk.
This is a field where new developments are happening frequently, and not all patients will be identified for testing. The information provided here should help patients understand more about what is available and how it can help make decisions on screening and treatment going forward.
What exactly is genetic testing?
Genetic testing for cancer involves taking either a blood sample or cheek swab from a patient. This is done in the office during the visit with a provider. The sample is then sent to a genetic lab, where the patient’s DNA is studied to see if any gene mutations are present that have been associated with a higher risk of developing cancer.
It’s important for patients to understand that just because you have a certain gene marker, doesn’t mean that you will get cancer. It is simply one piece of information that helps you and your doctor understand your personal risk factors.
Who is a candidate for genetic testing?
In general, anyone under the age of 50 who has had any type of cancer is a candidate for genetic testing because they are automatically at a higher risk for other kinds of cancers. In addition, anyone who has a strong family history of cancer can also be referred for genetic testing, as well as someone who is diagnosed with another condition that puts them at a higher risk.
That is the general guideline, but the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) publishes specific guidelines for different types of cancers and situations. Most practitioners use these recommendations to decide which patients should be tested. In addition, insurance companies use them to determine what testing is covered.
What happens next?
After testing is done the doctor will go over the results with the patient and discuss whether further screening or other intervention is warranted. Again, it is important to remember that testing positive for a specific gene does not mean you will get cancer, and testing negative does not mean you will not. The test only identifies a lower or higher risk factor, and those numbers are different for different types of cancer.
Once one person in a family tests positive for a genetic mutation, other family members should also be tested to see if they are positive for the gene (ie. to determine if the gene has been passed on). Then they can also watch carefully with the guidance of their doctor for any early signs of cancer.
If there is a positive finding, the NCCN also publishes guidelines for how to follow up for each type of cancer risk. This includes specific recommendations for further screening and follow-up care. However, there are some genes that are so newly identified that there aren’t guildines yet. In that case we personalize the next steps for that patient.
What if I think I am a candidate for testing?
Genetic testing is a new and rapidly developing field and most people do not need to be tested for risk factors. According to the American Cancer Society, only about 5-10% of cancers are thought to be hereditary cancers. You can read more about gene testing here.
If you believe that you are a candidate because of the risk factors listed above or would like to discuss genetic testing with your doctor, call us today at 915-225-2060 or contact us online to make an appointment.